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50,000+ Sensors Under The Sea: Siemens Recall

Feb 22, 2013

50,000+ Temperature/Humidity Sensors:

Siemens Recall


Here at Temperature@lert, we keep a sharp eye for news stories that are related to temperature monitoring, including product announcements, press releases, and other articles of interest. It's a rare sight to find 'temperature monitoring' as a subject in the Wall Street Journal or other trusted news sources, and we'll be honest, there are usually more pressing issues (politics, world hunger, poverty) that fit the news bill. However, the uncovering of a recent story (just one month ago) reminds us all of the importance of reliable temperature monitoring, and the scale by which these devices are implemented in a variety of businesses. Such "Temperature Monitoring" may seem like a small and innocent subject, but this recent recall shows how these devices, and the problems that may arise, are anything but small and insignificant.

On January 23, 2013, an announcement was made to recall over 50,000 Siemens "Q-Series temperature/Room Relative Humidity/ Relative Humidity and Temperature Sensors"  from a variety of business types and sizes. The recall came as a result of four separate reports from schools and hospitals that had reported trouble with the device.

The word "recall" is often attributed to automobiles, wherein thousands of cars are potentially hazardous and must be returned/altered immediately. The problems that compose a recall are generally serious mechanical or electrical issues that can potentially endanger the driver or passengers. So what exactly was the cause of a 50,000 sensor recall, affecting countless businesses around the country?

Quoting Siemens' own website: (in truth, we're shocked to read this)

"The Siemens sensor, when used under certain high-power input conditions, can have a capacitor on the printed circuit board degrade over time and then fail which can overheat and in some cases could result in the possibility of fire, property damage, or personal injury."

and further (from USCPSC.gov)

"Four incidents of overheating and fires have been reported to Siemens. Two of the fires were in schools and two in hospitals. Minor damage was reported. No injuries have been reported."

To recap the situation, remember that these temperature/humidity sensors were installed to alert to potential rises in temperature, and prevent the possibility of fires or property damage. And to that end, these devices fell victim to the very problem they were attempting to prevent, or deter. It's really a dose of irony and silliness, the deterioration of the actual device led to ultimate demise, rendering the sensors as the cause of the problem rather than the preventative solution. Siemens' has taken corrective action and will install/replace sensors as necessary. 

We'd never regard ourselves or our products as '100% perfect', but this type of slip-up is both embarrassing and concerning. The sheer number of recalled sensors doesn't exactly instill confidence in the consumer or buyer; perhaps other massively-distributed sensors or Siemens products may also be hazardous. There are many devices and systems that we install to provide oversight and supervision of certain hazards or conditions, but these devices should never be the actual cause of the problem that they're assigned to solve. A temperature sensor, temperature monitoring device, or any of the attributed buzzwords you choose, should never be the cause of an actual fire or property damage. The noted 'degradation' of the capacitor could be a hardware shortcut; it's possible that Siemens attempted to use inexpensive hardware for this particular electrical component to cut costs on the sensors.

Whatever the case may be, it's a fascinating look at the extent of a hardware failure, and we can only be hopeful that the 50,000+ replacements devices are outfitted to prevent fire (or general failure), rather than be the cause of the problem. We anticipate that the fallout from this recall will be minimal, but in terms of reputation, Siemens may have to reassure clients in the future that this was an isolated incident, even with a recall of this size.

Visit the page on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) website for the official announcement, compromised model numbers, and other information for the recall. 

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